There are a lot of marketing terms that get thrown around when talking about fabric, but one of the most common is the type of cotton used in a garment. Pima, Supima, modal, it’s all confusing unless you really take a look into how the fabric is made. We broke down the five most common ways you’ll wear cotton in t-shirt form, what to expect from each of them, and a couple of recommendations of some of the best in each category.
Think your Hanes three-packs or the Gilden tees band merch is printed on, this type of cotton requires a couple of washes to get it feeling soft (though some come pre-washed). This is your everyday cotton fabric that has no real special properties other than being known to shrink in the dryer, so beware.
Unisex Power Wash Crewneck T-Shirt, $22 from American Apparel: If there’s anything that American Apparel can do well, it’s a plain cotton T-shirt. These have been enzyme-treated to feel more like they’ve been lived in before, rather than a bit crisp around the edges.
Pima is the current standard for soft, durable t-shirt making and originated in the US in the 1900's. Pima cotton is valued for its durability, because longer fibers mean a softer and stronger fabric.
Women’s Pima Cotton Crew Neck T-Shirt, $36 from Bombas and Men's Pima Cotton Crew Neck T-Shirt, $36 from Bombas: Bombas’ newest launch, the tee shirt, is a luxurious but durable take on an everyday staple. Made from 100% Peruvian Pima cotton, it’s made to be worn immediately; there’s no break-in time required. It comes in both men’s and women’s styles.
Like Pima, but superior (hence the “su” prefix), SUPIMA cotton is a trademarked cotton made from American Pima Cotton, mostly coming from California.
Women’s SUPIMA Cotton Crew-Neck T-Shirt, $30 from Banana Republic, Men’s Authentic SUPIMA Cotton Crew-Neck T-Shirt, $27 from Banana Republic: Banana Republic sure knows how to make a quality basic and these are no different. They come in a multitude of colors and have a classic, relaxed fit so that you can wear them with ease. They’re 100% Supima cotton, which promises durability and long-lasting softness.
Modal is a semi-synthetic fabric similar to rayon that’s made from beech trees and is classically combined with cotton and spandex. According to The Spruce, because of its silky texture, it gives cotton a breathable and cooling edge and is up to 50% more resistant to shrinkage (unlike classic cotton).
Women’s Second Skin Crew Neck Tee, $55 from Tommy John, Men’s Second Skin Crew Neck Tee, $55 from Tommy John: The Second Skin fabric that Tommy John touts is a silky mixture of Pima cotton, spandex, and modal. This gives it the feel of, well, second skin. It’s a premium upgrade from cotton and will move with you throughout the day.
Cotton, in general, isn’t really known for its breathability so pairing it with a temperature-regulating fabric like wool helps add a technical edge to an otherwise basic T-shirt. Wools like merino and alpaca have natural odor-resistance on top of their ability to keep the fabric breathable.
Women’s Runpaca Shorts Sleeve, $54 from Janji, Men’s Runpaca Shorts Sleeve, $54 from Janji: While these T-shirts from Janji were made for running, they’re also good to keep things cool on days where you’re out and about. The sustainably-sourced alpaca wool comes from Peru, just like the Pima cotton it’s paired with, and it’ll help keep you cool with its thermal-regulating properties.
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